Japan Airlines, along with the other mainstream carrier in Japan, ANA, both have a Skytrax 5 star rating.  Before United opened up direct flights to Haneda Airport two years ago, Japan Airlines was the only one that flew into Haneda from San Francisco.  This is important because Haneda is actually located in Tokyo whereas Narita is located 50km outside of Tokyo in Chiba.  If airline alliances don’t matter to you, Japan Airlines flights JL01 is one of the top options to fly to Tokyo from San Francisco.

Pre Flight 

Overall Grade B+

JAL offers dedicated check-in for business class passengers with greeters(speaking both English and Japanese) to help you quickly get to the right counter.  Their attention to detail is superb.  For example, we were flying a multiage flight from SFO->HND->HKG->SFO and the agent walked me through the whole flight plan and reminded me that my next leg was out of Narita instead of Haneda airport.  One downside about flying JAL is that you do not get access to the United Polaris lounge, which is now the best lounge in SFO.  Instead, you get to use the small regional JAL lounge.  While to be expected since SFO is not a JAL hub, but it’s always disappointing when the main food item for food is ramen.  

JAL lounge entrance
Spirits selection
Ramen section
Fully stocked beer fridge
entree section
Seating

 

Layout  

Overall Grade:  B+

JAL Business class is set up in a 2-3-2 configuration for a total of 49 seats.  The way it each seat is staggered and angled still slow every seat to have direct aisle access.  Visually it looks a little bit complicated, but like Japanese design, it is extremely efficient.  Air New Zealand Business Class seats have a similar angled, but only manages to do it in a 2-2-2 configuration.  

 

Lighting 

Overall Grade: B+

JAL seats had pretty basic lighting all around.  The cabin lights were generic lighting, and it had your standard overhead and reading lights in LED.  It was missing some of the more useful lights in the footrest or storage areas.  As compared to ANA, JAL seat and amenity design seem to be a lot more focused on clean lines and a minimalistic design instead of being extremely functional.

Basic lighting

Seating 

Overall Grade: A-

The JAL Seat was one of the more comfortable business class seats that we have sat in.  Even without the sleeping mattress, it was extremely comfortable.  With the 2-3-2 design forces each business class cubby to be smaller in width, the seat was extremely comfortable lengthwise.  The seat had good adjustability and had a massage function that was very soothing. The last airplane seat that we sat in with the massage functionality was the United First Class seat in the now retired B747.  

The tray table is one of the most well-integrated tables that we have seen.  It is integrated with the edge of the seat which comes out after lifting up the lid for the table tray.  

Regarding storage, this is not that much of.  The seat has small cubbies but nothing enclosed to keep your small valuables like your passport or phone safe.  There is plenty of space under the footrest to store your backpack and more, so that is a reasonable compromise.

Pre-flight setup

 

Electronic privacy divider

 

Storage net for small items
Integrated tray table
Disappointing main storage area
Ample storage space in the footrest

 

Amenities  

Overall Grade: B

All the amenities are already on your seat when you arrive.  When nothing spectacular, it offered some interesting items such as a gentle steam mask and moisture mask, which is something quite unique.  It helps keeps your face moisturized after a long flight.  The mentturm chapstick is one of the best chapsticks we have used in flight, all with a nice cool mint feeling.  

One additional amenity that was unique was their origami chopstick holder.  You can actually bring it home if you would like so if you like, make sure you grab it before they clear the table.

Larger than average TV screen
Better than average amenity kit

Sleeping 

Overall Grade:  B+

As standard, each passenger is provided with just one blanket, which normally airlines provide two (one thin and one quilted). The bed was extremely comfortable as there was a lot of space for one to move up and down in the seat.  Not being the widest of seats, larger passengers may feel like it a bit cramped.  

Basic sleeping configuration

Food 

Overall Grade:  B

The JAL Sky Auberge food was just ok.  As compared to ANA, the uniqueness of the food seems to be missing.  For example, ANA usually offers a kaiseki type meal for their Japanese section that features food from a particular region.  The Sake, rice, vegetable, meats, etc are all featured from that area.  The JAL meal just seemed plain and tasted plain also.  

See below for your viewing pleasure.

Sakizuke 

Tomato mouse, bocconcini, Genoese sauce, marinated zucchini, smoked sardine, anchovy cream.

Irodori Gozen 

Simmered Chinese cabbage with minced chicken, yam jelly, green leaves and abalone, bamboo shoots and conger eel, Japanese omelet, simmered octopus, grilled duck, simmered shrimp, and mashed pumpkin ball.

Dainomomo 

Braised beef and tofu.  Sake steamed sea-bass with minced shrimp sauce served with steamed rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles.

Desert

Mango Mousse    

Breakfast

Salted grilled salmon with Yusuf radish, steamed vegetables, rice, and miso soup.

Mid Flight Snacks

Ramen

Tempora don

Light snacks

Cookies, Chips, Fruits, dried squid 

Overall Service Level 

Overall Grade:  B+

Inflight service was comparable to ANA, which means it is very good.  The attendants spoke good English and were extremely attentive.   A couple of things that we noticed that were different was that the ANA flight attendants always tried to talk to the passengers at eye level, where we never saw the JAL attendants do that. Secondly, and most disappointedly, they didn’t clean the toilets after every usage, so by the end of the flights, the lavatory was quite dirty.  None of the other 5 star airlines we have flown ever had that problem. 

Conclusion 

Overall Grade: B+

JAL business class was good, but it was nothing memorable.  If we were to have to pick one of the two Japanese airlines, it would be ANA. It just seems a bit more polished in almost every single aspect.  The good news that even though we rate JAL behind ANA, JAL is still significantly better than most other airlines in the world.  For OneWorld travelers out there, JAL choice as a gateway to Asia.   

Until Next Time,

Team GTE

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